To me, whether Simon Grayson was up to the task, or had taken us as far as he could, or had lost the dressing room, or whatever else, is almost secondary. There are better managers, and there are worse, as the list of potential replacements amply shows. Grayson had his good points – he got us out of the third division, for a start – and he had his bad points, like the constantly leaking defences. There were the dodgy signings: Paynter, Bessone, Rachubka; but then there were the coaching miracles: did he really manage to build a promotion team around Michael Doyle?
It’s not even the manner of his sacking that has got me, although that was graceless to the point of being a modern LUFC cliche. After the weeks of pressure – and let’s be clear, no matter that Bates tried to shift the blame for that onto the fans, it was Ken who spent winter talking about “ultimate challenges” and how long Simon had been here already – it was completely bloody typical that Grayson should be sacked the day after the transfer window closed. It was also completely bloody typical that the edict should come from South Africa where Ken Bates, the man Martin O’Neill characterised as “a footballing cretin,” can have seen nothing of the Birmingham game but the final score. And it was completely bloody typical that the statement on the website should announce that Leeds had, “dispensed with the services of Simon Grayson and his coaching staff,” a turn of phrase which bears an ugliness that has continued through Ken Bates’ comments since: snide remarks on Yorkshire Radio about Grayson wanting to sign a defender – who became a midfielder in the programme notes – hints about marital status, even potshots at Sven-Goran Eriksson, who may or may not have even applied for the job. All that is so completely bloody typical of Leeds United these days that I can only roll my eyes and shrug at what a mess it is.
So it’s not whether Grayson was right for the job, and it’s not the cretinous handling of his departure, but it’s something; something has caused this empty feeling I have about Leeds United right now. And it’s this: it’s that I liked the idea of Simon Grayson and Glynn Snodin, and I liked the idea of them probably much more than I liked the reality. But as the chip-chip-chip of the chisel in the side of Leeds chip-chip-chips on apace, ideas are really the only thing I have left at Leeds that are mine.
Because it was a nice idea, wasn’t it? And we had the reality in our hands, for a while. Simon Grayson: the former Leeds trainee from Ripon, who made good lifting trophies as captain of Leicester and came home to unfinished business at Elland Road. And Glynn Snodin: the infamous mullet-and-tache of the late-Bremner/early-Wilko years, the unofficial keeper of the Leeds salute, back in the West Stand in his suit and his passionate enthusiasm. They got it right in 2009/10; they nearly missed the mark but in the end they got it right: the Leeds trainee and the Leeds fan, giving the captaincy to the team’s wayward star, keeping another Leeds fan hungry on the bench, and watching as they were the two who made themselves the heroes of the day. After the Bristol Rovers game, as Andy Hughes doused Grayson with champagne in the tunnel, it felt so right that after the Chelsea-inspired disaster of relegation to League One, it should be the Yorkshire contingent who got us back up. There hasn’t been a better day for Leeds fans – and I’m including Grayson and Snodin in that – for years and years.
And the idea was that it wouldn’t be the last. It was all set up, and it was going to be great. With Leeds fans as coaches, and Leeds fans on the pitch, and the momentum from League One, it didn’t much matter who was in the boardroom, because there was a dream on the go here, and – and let’s forget Peter Ridsdale for a moment – and it was within reach. Grayson and Snodin and Howson with the Championship trophy; Grayson and Snodin and Howson, with their taste for giantkilling, with the FA Cup; Grayson and Snodin and Howson, at the top of the Premier League, in Europe, them, and us, all getting it, all understanding Leeds United and what Leeds United is, and what it is to march on together, really, and see Leeds win.
It was a silly idea and it was a daft dream but, with fuck all else that’s good about Leeds United now, I’m not ashamed to gather to my bosom all the silly ideas and daft dreams that I can, and try to keep the likes of Ken Bates away from them. But that’s what has got me about Grayson’s sacking, and about this season in general: even our dreams aren’t safe. It’s been the tell-tale heartbeat that has pounded beneath everything I’ve written about Leeds United this season. The grinding halt we came to in the summer, when far from building on a good year last year, the club seemed to shrink in the glare of the transfer window. The sale of Max Gradel, as eighteen goals and a thrilling unpredictable joy was flogged to France. The sale of Howson, as the local-boy-done-made-captain became a depreciating asset to be realised for the good of the balance sheet. And now the ‘dispensation’ of Simon Grayson and Glynn Snodin, and the erasure of another bit of hope, another bit of anticipation; the death of another of the ‘what-if?’ dreams that draw football fans to football.
We’ll get another manager; we might get a better manager. But we won’t get that dream, that idea, back. We could build other dreams, and other ideas, but do we dare to now? Gradel, Howson and Grayson: all gone in a matter of months. We’ve still got Snodgrass, Clayton, Lees, White; but does anyone dare to build a new daydream around those players, knowing that they could be gone at any moment?
This is football, for fuck’s sake. It’s a dream business. Every season only one team wins; twenty-three lose. You come back the next season for the dream, not the reality; you come back for the hope that you’ll win, not for the likelihood that you won’t. Ken Bates said last week that he’s, “Building a club first, and a team second.” What he isn’t building, first, second, third or fourth, is hope. And without hope, why bother?
From The Square Ball magazine 2011/12 issue seven.